DEAR DR. BLONZ: Is folate the same as folic acid? I read about the importance of folate, but when I look at the label of my multivitamin, it says "folic acid." -- S.I., San Diego
DEAR S.I.: They are both the same. Throughout its history, the vitamin we call folic acid or folate has gone by many names, including Wills Factor, anti-anemia factor, SLR factor, PGA, factor U and factor R, not to mention vitamins M, Bc, U, B9, B10 and B11. The explanation is that many different laboratories were doing research on the same substance at the same time, and many were working on related compounds that had the same vitamin activity.
Folate, it turns out, is a generic term referring to a family of related compounds, the simplest of which is folic acid. We usually don't find folic acid in nature; instead, we find one of the folates, which you can think of as being forms of folic acid with different lengths of a particular side chain attached.
Folate is usually associated with food, therefore, while folic acid is usually associated with supplements. Folic acid appears to be a key compound in human nutrition. The increasing frequency of articles on the benefits of folate reflect the fact that an inadequate intake of this nutrient is now being associated with a number of different ailments, including heart disease and certain birth defects. What's of interest here is that you don't need megadoses to avoid problems. One can get all the folate they need from a healthy diet. Good sources include green leafy vegetables, organ meats, legumes, orange juice, beets, avocado and broccoli.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: I had been in search of the perfect fancy butter dish, and I just found one at an estate sale. I learned that it is made of leaded crystal (24 percent lead), and when showing off my dish to a friend, she told me about your column on leaded crystal. Are you saying that I should pitch this new treasure -- or at least not put any butter on it and then into my digestive system? I only want to use it as a serving dish, but not if it's going to poison my body. -- M.B., Danville, Calif.
DEAR M.B.: Lead is a toxic substance, and the risk with this type of crystal is that the lead is not tightly bound. When in contact with liquids (water or alcohol), small amounts of the lead can slowly dissolve or leach into the liquid. Dried grains would not be an issue -- not that many would choose to store rice or whole wheat in leaded glass. Butter is primarily fat, but it does contain a small amount of water (as does margarine). There would be negligible risk to using your leaded crystal as a serving dish, so go ahead, enjoy, and congratulations on your find.
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